I don’t know what you think of your local church. I don’t really know what significance you think it has in your Christian life. I know it’s the church that you attend. It may also be the church of which you feel a part. I’m pretty sure that you appreciate it, and perhaps especially the other people who make it what it is. But, in my view, we consistently underestimate the significance and importance of the local church. We simply don’t share God’s view of it. In all fairness, it’s easily done because the Bible writers tend to use such exalted idealistic language. We can’t help wondering whether they’re exaggerating (or whether they even had our church in mind). It’s one thing to write about the local church from the isolation of the ivory tower. But we live with the reality!
So following on from last week’s threefold description of the Christian, it’s lucky (as Calvin would say) that in the 1 Timothy passage for this Sunday morning’s sermon, the Apostle Paul provides us with a threefold description of the church of which every Christian is a part (1 Timothy 3:14-15). For those of us at CCB, this may be worth remembering as we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning, or away from the Antiques Roadshow for the evening meeting, to unpack church from a school cupboard and meet in a venue in which there’s no natural light and the heating never works as we want it to.
We are the household of God. The Greek word that Paul uses means ‘house as in building’ or ‘household as in family’. And it’s in that sense that he uses it here. Our church family is actually God’s church family. We have been born again by the Spirit of God so that we might become a part of the family of God. God is our Father and he has brought us into relationship with him as sons. And we are brothers and sisters to one another with bonds stronger than blood. When we go to church there’s a sense in which we’re pitching up to the ultimate family gathering. I’m hoping that whets your appetite. But I guess that depends on your experience of these things. For the record, I always enjoy them infinitely more than I think I’m going to. But that’s why getting to church early and lingering around afterwards is almost as important as what goes on during the ‘service’ bit of the morning. It’s family time.
We are the church of the living God. The Greek word that Paul uses means ‘gathering’ or ‘assembly’. It’s not actually a religious word at all. We’re a crowd. But we’re a very special type of crowd. We’re the crowd in which God makes himself at home. He dwells among us. And we meet him when we gather together to listen to his word, sing his praises, express our dependence on him in prayer, love one another and encourage one another to respond to what we’ve heard. And that’s why being in church frequently and not just regularly is so important to our spiritual health. An isolated infrequent church member is like a log removed from the fire. Together with other logs it burns brightly. But on its’ own, the fire soon dims and the heat goes out of it. But by being part of God’s crowd, gathering together with our Christian family, we’ll burn with passion for God and the gospel.
We are the pillar and foundation of the truth. The pillars are the columns that lift the roof of any building into the air. The foundation is the thing that stabilises the building so that it doesn’t crumble. Therefore our local church is what God has ordained to hold ensure that the truth of the gospel is maintained under the weight of false teaching. And our local church is what God has ordained to elevate the truth of the gospel before a watching world. And so church is the place where the truth of the gospel is held firm and held up so that it might be held out to an unbelieving world. Can you appreciate just how significant a little church like yours is? Your town needs you. They may not realise it. Almost certainly they won’t. They may not appreciate you. But they need you. You’re hugely significant for the people of your neck of the woods. No one else is talking about the gospel in your area (apart from the other churches, I mean). People aren’t going to find the good news of the gospel anywhere else. We must remember what significance God has given to us.
Your little, local, imperfect church is infinitely more important than your thoughts betray, isn’t it?